Commentary

Successful woman who once received food aid decries NC’s cuts to SNAP program

There’s a great op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer highlighting North Carolina’s shameful recent decision to slash food assistance benefits (aka “SNAP”).

Jessica Murrell, who once relied on SNAP/Food Stamps during a rough patch in her life, explains:

“I never thought that I would find myself in need of SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. After successfully graduating from college with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology, I was sure I would have a job in the bag.

Unfortunately, that was not my story. When I graduated in December 2007, I was also five months pregnant, and let’s just say the economy was at its worst since the 1930s. I needed a temporary lift until I could find work, and SNAP was a true lifesaver. Being able to receive help from Medicaid and SNAP allowed me to deliver a beautiful baby girl and provide the nutrition she needed as a breast-feeding mother.”

In other words, the program worked just as it was intended to. Now Murrell is a successful professional and worried that loads of potentially hungry people will not get the help she did:

“I’m deeply concerned about cuts to the program that will lead to greater food insecurity throughout our state, harming not only individuals but also local economies. Over the course of 2016, more than 100,000 North Carolinians are at risk of losing their SNAP benefits because of a provision that limits the length of time an adult without children is allowed to receive food assistance while out of work. Waivers have allowed some of our very poor neighbors who live in communities with weak labor markets to receive SNAP and weather the economic downturn, but state lawmakers permanently banned such waivers after July, and everyone faces a three-month limit.

Though the economy has certainly improved, there are still scores of men and women unable to find stable employment despite their best efforts. Of the state’s 100 counties, 89 have more people looking for work than available job openings. Eliminating the SNAP waiver will not create opportunities but will only increase economic hardship for some of our poorest neighbors.”

She’s right, of course. As analyst Tazra Mitchell explained in this space a couple weeks ago, last year’s mean-spirited SNAP cuts in North Carolina are all but sure to create thousands more hungry people in our state. These people want to work, but literally can’t find jobs or even volunteer opportunities.

The bottom line: Despite their assurances that they want more North Carolinians to work their way out of poverty like Ms. Murrell, the actions of our state leaders all but guarantee that more people will remain mired in poverty. In other words, the SNAP cuts are a matter of “business as usual” for North Carolina’s conservative political leadership.

 

Commentary

McCrory expected to sign bill targeting immigrants, food aid recipients today

McCrory budgetThe word on the street is that Gov. Pat McCrory will put an exclamation point on a dreadful year of state lawmaking today by signing the controversial bill advanced in the waning days of the 2015 session that targets immigrants and recipients of food assistance. The Governor has announced that he will conduct a bill signing ceremony at 2:30 at the Guilford County Sheriff’s office and the expectation is that he will sign House Bill 318.

This is from the October 2 edition of the Fitzsimon File:

“And while he has the veto stamp out, he should also use on it House Bill 318 that passed in the legislative session’s waning days that would punish undocumented immigrants in the state and make it harder for thousands of families to afford enough to eat.

A letter from N.C. Justice Center Executive Director Rick Glazier asking McCrory to veto the bill points out that it takes authority away from how local communities interact with immigrants and gives local law enforcement agencies less flexibility.  McCrory, as a long time mayor, ought to understand that.

And as Glazier wrote to the governor, the bill was passed with disturbing anti-immigrant rhetoric in the debate on the House floor, where bill supporters described North Carolina being ‘overrun by illegal immigrants.’

The bill also punishes low-income families by banning the state from continuing to apply for waivers from the federal government that allow people in economic distressed parts of the state to receive food stamp benefits.

The bill would result in 100,000 people being denied food assistance next year, regardless of the economic conditions in their communities.”

Sadly, however, it appears common sense explanations like this and the pleas of thousands who have protested the bill have gone for naught. Unless the Governor is somehow overtaken by a last minute wave of human decency and compassion, North Carolina will add two more areas to the list in which it is home to some of the nation’s worst and most heartless state laws. All in all, it’s an apt way to close the legislative year.

NC Budget and Tax Center, News

Congresswoman Alma Adams urges Governor McCrory to veto measure that unnecessarily restricts food aid for childless adults

Earlier this month, Congresswoman Alma Adams of the 12th District penned a letter urging Governor McCrory to veto a bill that would unnecessarily restrict food aid for childless adults who are very poor and live in areas where jobs are scarce—regardless of how hard they are looking for work.Adams_McCrory

States can temporarily suspend work-related time-limits on federal food aid for areas with sustained high levels of unemployment. North Carolina officials applied for a waiver in July for 77 of the state’s 100 counties due to a severe lack of jobs available that hampers North Carolinians’ ability to meet the work requirements. The bill, however, would permanently ban the Governor from ever pursuing this option irrespective of how local economies are faring or whether employment and training opportunities actually exist.

Between 85,000 and 105,000 unemployed childless adults in North Carolina would lose food aid in 2016 if the Governor signs this bill into law.* See this map of where they live.

“House Bill 318 is [a] significant step backwards for supporting the hungry as they look for work,” wrote Congresswoman Adams. “All this bill does is punish people in high unemployment areas and limits the state’s ability to meet the needs of the unemployed,” she continued.

Congresswoman Adams is part of a growing chorus of voices calling upon the governor to veto this measure, including the NC Justice Center, the NC NAACP, and the state Legislative Black Caucus. Governor McCrory has until October 30th to veto or sign the bill, which will become law if he takes no action.

See Representative Adams’ letter to the Governor below.

Adams_Letter

*Special data request to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. September 2015.

Commentary

Unbelievable: Last minute bill would limit food assistance, expand hunger in N.C.

SNAPvote[UPDATE: This bill passed its “second reading” today and is scheduled for a final vote in the Senate next Monday.] Another “you can’t make this stuff up” bill has emerged in the final days of the 2015 state legislative session. Under an amendment tacked on to a bill originally designed to target the employment of undocumented immigrants, SNAP benefits (i.e. Food Stamps) would be made significantly harder to obtain for childless adults in struggling parts of North Carolina.

Here’s the deal:

SNAP benefits are limited under federal law to three months out of every three years for childless, non-disabled adults unless they are working at least half time, participating in a qualified job training program for 20 hours a week, or in workfare. This time limit applies regardless of whether these individuals are actually able to find employment or training opportunities.

This can obviously work a great hardship. In North Carolina, for example, 83 counties actually have more jobless workers than job openings.

Thankfully, federal allows states to suspend the time limit in areas with high unemployment. As a result, every state except Delaware has waived the time limit for at least part of their state at some point. During the recent recession, many states qualified for state-wide waivers from the time limit. Most states will have to reimpose the time limit for at least part of their state in 2016. North Carolina has already applied for a waiver for 77 of the state’s 100 counties — i.e. the ones with high unemployment rates.

Absurdly, however, under the new provision (click here and scroll to page 6) the Department of Health and Human Services would be barred from applying for a waiver, effectively reimposing the time limit even though parts of the state qualify for a waiver due to high unemployment. This unnecessarily restricts food assistance for poor childless adults in areas where the economy has not yet fully recovered.

This bill would further prevent the state from ever requesting a waiver, removing an important state response to future economic downturns.

The bottom line: If the bill becomes law, a large number of hurting North Carolinians in some of the state’s least healthy communities will lose yet another small lifeline that allows them to survive. On the day Pope Francis is receiving global accolades for calling on Americans to help the poor, North Carolina lawmakers are, once more, doing the exact opposite.

Adjournment of the 2015 session cannot come soon enough.

NC Budget and Tax Center

US House and Senate propose deep cuts to food assistance for families with children, older adults, and people with disabilities

Food assistance for vulnerable communities would be slashed deeply under budget resolutions that the US House and Senate budget committees approved last week. The cuts would likely increase hunger, thrust more people into poverty, and push families that are poor even deeper into poverty. Considering that North Carolina has the 5th highest level of food insecurity in the nation, the proposals would deliver a huge blow to North Carolinians living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to provide food to their families.

Under the House plan, the SNAP program—formerly known as food stamps—would be block-granted and cut by at least $125 billion, or one-third, between 2021 and 2025, according to experts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). There is some flexibility in terms of how states would be able to carry out the deep funding cuts. If states decided to rely solely on benefits cuts, the average SNAP recipient would face a $55 per month cut in food assistance. For a family of 4 that cut is about $200 a month—or worth about one-quarter of a very low-cost meal plan. States could also turn to eligibility cuts and reduce income limits to achieve the cuts. Either way, cuts of this magnitude will bring harm to families, children, and other vulnerable groups.

North Carolina would lose at least $3.8 billion in food aid over those five years. That would force North Carolina policymakers to make some very difficult decisions about whose food assistance to reduce or terminate, impacting many Tar Heel families who already find it difficult to pay the bills and meet their most basic needs. Read more